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Authors: J. D. Stroube

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Caged by Damnation

BOOK: Caged by Damnation
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Caged by Damnation

Caged: Book 2

J.D. Stroube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2012 J.D. Stroube

All rights reserved.

Euphoric
Publishing & Design

ISBN: 1479129666

ISBN-13: 978-1479129669

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

I would like to dedicate this book to
Baby Kitty, who passed away December 6, 2012, just shy of turning sixteen years old. I was lucky to have such a devoted friend in my life and took your loss harder than I thought possible. You were ill for many years and though letting you go was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do, it was the right choice. I still look at your picture every day. Luckily your sisters, Crimson and Sienna are here to comfort me and remind me of you. I hope that you're at peace and know that I love you. You will always be my baby girl. XOXO

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

I would like to thank my many proofreaders, who helped me agonize over each section of my book. It is inspiring that each of you reached out your hand to aid me. Thank you to Lee Burton with Ocean's Edge Editingan
d
by: C.J. Pinard
[email protected]
for
editing my manuscript. You're both phenomenal editors and amazing friends. Thanks to Nicole Rae for listening to me read my book over the phone. It helped to have a friend like you supporting me.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Savannah's Journal

I live in a world where people pass by one another every day without questioning what horrors the person next to them has been through. Has she lost a loved one? Is he lonely, afraid, incapable of emotion? Is the way he is grasping her hand the strength of their bond, or his domination over her?

Are we selfish if we are more concerned with placing one foot in front of the other, than with a stranger’s fate, in believing that our own destiny should be our focus, rather than saving somebody else from the hands of death?

Lives are filled with trials that overshadow that of others. We don't have time to take stock of a stranger’s life when we concern ourselves with those closest to us. Perhaps it's our excuse, when we ignore the teenager teasing a younger sibling or a husband and wife arguing, that it's none of our business – everything will be better if we stay out of it; we would only make things worse. That is what I used to tell myself.

Somewhere along the path my life has taken, I paused for a few moments to
really
look at the people around me. It's strange how I noticed the man with the briefcase rushing through a crowd, jolting everyone, and yet didn't consider the ramifications.

A complete stranger has the capacity to alter a person’s life irrevocably, and then that person, the life of a different stranger. This domino effect can change the course of an entire world. That is what life is: a chain reaction of individuals colliding with others, influencing lives without realizing it. A decision that seems miniscule to one person may be monumental to the fate of the world. Is this what fate is, each person's destiny changing repeatedly based on the roads they take and the people they come into contact with?

Fate is the understanding that our vision is flawed, because we have no way of predicting whose choices impact our own. To survive means that one needs to find a route that less follow, a road populated by only yourself and a few companions. The path that is barren of strangers is the one that allows the most freedom, choices, and the possibility of shaping your own destiny.

When I chose to travel my path with Maye, Ash, Willow, and Izzy, I knew that my choices would forever alter theirs. Their worlds would have been far different had I never entered them. Asmodeus wouldn't have been drawn to Izzy and she would still be alive instead of an incorporeal being. Willow would never have had to bring Ash back to life; Death would never have found her – she wouldn't have been faced with the choice between herself and the life of another.

My presence served to pull them beneath the waves, drowning them in the depths of my past.  Even knowing that my presence cast a shadow over the lives of my loved ones, I can't regret the experiences I've had with them. They gave me life, becoming integral parts of my soul. They healed me when I was broken and somehow recovered those parts of me I’d thought lost forever. I only wish I could have done the same for them.

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Savannah's Journal

The battle with Asmodeus had been painful on more than one emotional plane. Discovering that each tender kiss with Ash and Liam had been a lie was mind blowing, but the realization that my first love was an Archdemon set on killing everyone I loved was unbearable.

I once believed that fate had tossed me into an abyss and forgotten me. I thought I would inevitably succumb to the surrounding darkness. I was wrong. I accepted that relying on a higher being to dictate my life was a betrayal of self. I was born with a soul; I had been given the will to make my own choices. My decision to live had opened up a foreign world.

For weeks after Asmodeus's death, my old journal mocked me. It was a constant reminder of the infection, the emptiness, before I took charge. That journal now resided within a dusty box in the attic.

Memories couldn’t be trusted. I wrote about dating Liam and falling in love with Ash, but those experiences hadn’t been with them, but with Asmodeus. I was once plagued by nightmares of a young girl who’d witnessed tragedies exacted on innocents. Now, I was haunted by memories of a lost love I’d never truly held. I couldn’t walk through my own home without colliding with the physical presence of the man I thought I loved. Ash was a brother to me, but our steady relationship had landed on quaking ground. I trembled with the loss even while I plummeted towards the broken surface.

 

SAVANNAH

I awoke after a restless night, faced with memories that were the embodiment of personal demons. Living with Ash had grown difficult and I wasn't anxious to leave my room to face him. I couldn’t distinguish the line between where he began and Asmodeus had left off. Had my attraction been entirely for Asmodeus? The more I thought about the concept, the more confused I became. 

Asmodeus had possessed Liam
and
Ash, but my attraction had been more intense with Ash. I also had difficulty explaining some of the experiences. I couldn’t imagine why Asmodeus would bring me to a place of Divine Energy.

After my ascension, I was finally able to cross the threshold into the Divine, a place of beauty and magic that coexisted with our world. Only those few who knew of its existence could cross into it. Witchlings attained the ability to cross over the threshold once they had undergone their ascension.

I’d experienced the most romantic and carefree night of my life with Ash in the Divine. For that one night, I was able to forget my past, present, and future. I couldn't stand knowing that those moments were spent with someone who’d been planning a massacre of all my loved ones. Sometimes, I wondered if Ash had been in control that night.

I had spent the past few months immersing myself in books about demons and angels. Most of the experts agreed that a demon could possess a person, but their possession was merely an influence. They could enhance urges and make it nearly impossible not to succumb to them. Did that mean Ash already had those feelings for me? Why did I respond to his kisses differently from Liam’s? I couldn’t help but wonder if Asmodeus had awakened buried emotions, but I wasn’t certain if I wanted to face them.

My stomach protested my intentional isolation, as I stumbled downstairs to the kitchen. Smack in the middle of the room were the very reasons I secluded myself. Ash and Liam were standing by the counter, laughing. They grew silent, and the tension was palpable. Somewhere between kicking Asmodeus's ass and discovering they had been possessed by a demon, they’d become friends. 

“Sorry, I just came to get something to eat.” I shuffled my feet, trying to avoid their gazes. 

“Hey, no problem. I was just about to leave.” Liam nodded his head at Ash before exiting the kitchen.

His shoulder brushed mine and I nearly jumped from my skin. The pitying gaze Liam left lingered in my mind. Pity was the kind of emotion that made me feel naked, as if everyone could hear my inner thoughts and feelings. I felt as though my soul had been left out on the counter to defrost, when it should have been safely locked away.

I looked at Ash. He leaned back against the counter and regarded me with dark eyes.

“I didn’t mean to make him leave.”

Ash's gaze fixated on my lower lip while I spoke. He cleared his throat, shrugged, and looked away. “He just knows you feel weird around him now.” Opening the fridge, he pulled out a bowl of fruit. “Here…” he took the Saran Wrap off the bowl and handed it to me. “I cut this up for you earlier.” 

My hand wrapped around the bowl and my fingers brushed his. We both stood still, staring at our fingertips. Ash blinked, his eyes slid from our fingertips to my face, and he held my gaze before shaking his head. He didn’t say a word when he left, and it killed me. Asmodeus had done some horrible things during his war on my life, but the worst part was that he had taken Ash from me. I heard the door slam shut and knew that Ash was slamming more than just the door behind him.

It was getting late and I’d promised Izzy and Willow I would meet them at the shack in the forest. After eating some of the fruit, I ran to the woods to absolve myself of my clothing. It was a relief to seek solace in the form of a panther, but entirely awkward the few moments before and after I shape-shifted. As a panther, I didn't worry over my nudity, but in human form, I was embarrassed by it. Kit's shape liberated me from the rest of the world, allowing me to forget my life and run to the ends of the world.

I still held some strong negative feelings towards Liam's mother, but it was difficult to actually hate her. She had given me Kit, a spirit animal whose soul had merged with mine. I never had to feel alone, because he was with me. Sometimes he lingered in my mind, brushing at the edges of my consciousness, soothing my pain away. Other times he would take a more aggressive approach, leaving my body, but he was still linked to me. Our entwined spirits gave each of us a part of life we couldn't have had before. Kit had been given a second chance, while I received companionship, unconditional love, and the ability to shapeshift into a black panther.

It was a gift to leave behind my old body and submerge myself in Kit's essence. Each shifting contributed something new, the scent of an animal marking its territory, the howl of wolves in the distance.

As I sprinted towards the shed, my paws were smooth against the ground. I lengthened my stride, quickening my pace, feeling that I could outrun my demons. My senses heightened, the world around me took on varied shades of black, white, gray, and blue. The living aspects of the forest gave off a peculiar aura. I often wondered if ordinary panthers saw the world the way I did.

When I shifted back to my natural state, I grabbed the bag of clothes I kept hanging from a nearby tree, and put them on. I was reluctant to enter the shack because we were meeting to discuss the upcoming deadline with Death.  Entering the shack, I found Izzy and Willow inside.

“Hey, how long have you guys been waiting?” I looked between my two friends.

Willow sat in a small chair in the corner and Izzy stood against the single window. The sun shone through the glass to create a warm blanket, but it also shielded part of Izzy’s form. She looked like a person who was missing essential body parts.

Willow shrugged. “I’ve been here all day, but that’s just because I wanted silence while I thought.”

“I just got here.” Izzy stuck her tongue out at Willow. “She told me to leave her be,” Izzy snorted. “It’s not like I have many places I can go. I’m a ghost! Am I supposed to go haunt my dad? I’m sure that would go over well. I think we’ve had enough death in the family already. I don’t need to give my dad a heart attack.” She sniffled and I knew Willow's words had hurt her.

“Sorry, Izzy. I just needed a breather.” Willow’s voice was thin, like a wisp of smoke sailing through the air, and I barely managed to catch the path it left.

“So…” I was reluctant to start, but neither of them seemed ready to. “What are we doing about Death?”


You
aren’t doing anything. This is my choice. He gave
me
the ultimatum and
I
have to answer it.” Willow crossed her arms and looked me straight in the eyes.


Okay
. What are
you
going to do about Death?” I tried to curtail the anger that laced my voice, but it was useless.

Willow opened her mouth to answer, but Izzy interrupted. “Ha! What is she going to do? I’ll tell you.” She pointed at Willow. “
She
is agreeing to his demands! She is actually going to agree to a deal with Death! Ugh!” Izzy plopped down on the ground, the way a small child does when they don’t get their way after a tantrum.

Sensing Izzy’s anguish, Kit left the confinement of my form to curl around Izzy. They had become friends over the
past few months. After a few moments of Kit licking her exposed arm, she brightened. The ghostly panther rolled over and Izzy gave a slight laugh, as she scratched his belly.

I turned to Willow, knowing that Izzy spoke the truth. Willow didn’t need to say the words when I could see them clearly in her eyes. “You’re really going to do it? Couldn’t we try to stall him some more?”

She shook her head as tears fell. “No. I can’t keep stalling. Knowing I will eventually leave is killing me. I just want to get it over with.” Willow’s voice shook, as she pulled back on the emotional current that was dragging her towards rocky waters.

Leaning over the arm of the chair, I pulled her into a tight hug.

We all had to face the truth. Death held control over all living beings. There was no way to fix this problem. Unless we wanted Ash to die, Willow would need to become a Hellhound. While I knew she would still be alive, it felt like she was sacrificing herself. I could sense her will leaving and death seeping through her skin to skewer her soul.

 

WILLOW

My stomach twisted into tightly coiled tangle as the clock continued to tick. Time was running out. Soon I would leave everything behind, even things I had taken for granted. Leaving my friends and family was the worst part, but knowing I would never read beneath my favorite tree, or stand in the hallway of my school, made everything that much harder. How do you say goodbye to your life and hello to Death?

Ever since Death had given me the ultimatum, I had intentionally distanced myself from my friends and family. I hoped that if I drew away over an extended time, it would hurt less when I left. I knew they would still have one another, but I hated that I couldn't soothe their pain.

The meeting with Izzy and Savannah was weighing on me. They wanted me to stall Death, but I had accepted the inevitable. Unfortunately, they remained in denial. I was used to being the supportive friend who remained in the wings and never caused conflict. However, I had to remain strong. If I let them talk me out of my decision, I wouldn’t be able to survive.

After our meeting, I came home to an empty house. The silence was deafening, but only because there was nothing to distract me from my own thoughts. I attempted the usual activities, but continued to be sucked into an insubstantial hole. I hadn't realized how exhausting pacing my home could be. The anxiety alone made me feel comatose, but I couldn't still my thoughts long enough to drift to sleep. I tried to read before bed, but the words blurred together. What would happen to me? Would there be books where I was going?

I decided to focus on the shady future ahead of me, which allowed me to carry only a miniscule portion of my current life into it. I settled on packing a small suitcase and filled it with versatile clothing – a necklace Izzy had made for me, the scrapbook Savannah had given me last Christmas, and some other small mementos, pictures, and the like. I looked through drawers, on shelves, and under the bed. I needed to fit my life in this small suitcase, and yet, I felt like I was missing something.

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I looked around at my room. Sighing, I moved towards my prized possession, my bookcase, designated for my favorite novels. I knew I couldn’t take them all, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take a few. I settled on
Pride and Prejudice
and
Great Expectations
. They were old copies that my grandmother had given me before she died. I tucked them in my suitcase between my pajama pants and a tank top. A residual tear slid down my cheek and landed on the leather binding of
Great Expectations
.

“I can see why you would cry. All the books in the world and you choose
those
to bring with you? It’s a shame. You couldn’t have picked something a little more action oriented?”

I spun quickly to face the husky voice and found Death staring me in the face. “What are you doing here? My time isn’t up.”

A slow, eerie smile lit up his face, bringing a more human quality to his features. It also brought an inevitable comparison between him and someone from a mental institution. The thought made me shudder.

“I just came to remind you of your deadline.” He walked to my bed and fingered my quilt. “Pink? I thought you would have something more sophisticated.”

“I know when the deadline is, and my bedroom is none of your concern.” My voice was laced with acid, but I tried to cool my temper.

Death turned to examine my face. “Is there anything you need for your room?”

“Huh?”
Death came all this way to ask if I needed anything?
“Why do you care? Don’t you have more important things to do? Like sending people to Hell?” I forced a sarcastic smile and stared him down. I was trying to be strong, but he had the nerve to
laugh
at me.

He raised a single eyebrow. “Would you rather sleep on the ground, with absolutely nothing to your name? I am merely doing my part as your keeper.”

“My keeper? You are
not
my keeper! I am my own person and
if
I decide to accept your offer, I will never be your … your servant!” I ground out the last words. “You don’t
own
me.”

Death looked confused by my outburst, but didn’t seem to mind it. “Okay.”

“Okay? That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” His lack of a response bothered me. It made me want to throw something at him.

“Okay. You’re right. Technically, I do not own you. I did not create you; you were born. I will try to keep that in mind. Now, if you are done with your tantrum…?” He waited for me to respond. When I didn’t, he continued, “Your deadline is tomorrow. I will expect an answer by midnight. We will meet in the clearing where your witch died.”

I nodded and looked away. When I turned back to respond, he was gone. The only sign that he had been there at all was a single black lily against my pillow, a red ribbon tied around the stem. I picked it up and was enveloped by a sweet fragrance. It was intoxicating and unlike anything I had smelled before. I placed the flower inside my suitcase and zipped it.

BOOK: Caged by Damnation
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